What if church were like an iPhone?

I stumbled upon this video of a 25-year-old Steve Jobs in 1980 talking about this new thing his company was selling called the personal computer. It is a fascinating peek back in time. In it, we see the singular vision that helped shape everything Jobs would do.

He describes the personal computer as a tool for expanding human capacities — the same way a bicycle allows to move with speed and efficiency well beyond our natural ability. And he describes the way a computer should be designed so that you do not have to learn a lot about computers in order to use it to work on the problem you want to solve. He talks about computers of that day getting between the person and the problem so that you could not solve the problem until you put a lot of energy into learning how to use a computer. He wanted to eliminate that issue.

Here is the fulll video if you are interested:

It got me thinking a little bit about whether we make church something that gets between people and their spiritual problems. You have to learn “church” and put energy into that before you can begin to work on the problems that bring people to church in the first place.

This question, of course, envisions church as a tool, a means to an end. This may be a category mistake. But as an exercise in creative thinking about what we do and why we do it, I think it has some merit.

What would it mean to make the church as user-friendly as an iPhone?

What would it mean if we conceptualized the church as being a tool — llike a bicycle — meant to expand our capacity to connect with God?

NOTE: My daughter called to object to the premise of the post. She said an iPhone is not easy to use. She may be right. I do not own one. But I do know that using the early Mac was a big upgrade from having to learn DOS. It depends on when you born, I suppose. If you never lived before Apple, then you don’t see how it changed things. A good lesson. Insiders never see the world the way newcomers do.


4 thoughts on “What if church were like an iPhone?

  1. I think we should consider this. What makes the IPhone work so well is its intuitive interface and ease of use. Ideally, it also makes us much more able to live in the inter-connected world. The downside to the analogy is that there really is nothing easy about actually being a Christian. We’ve made it hard to be a church person (learning the language, rules, etc) and easy to be a Christian. Perhaps we need to turn this around: easy to be a church person and pay more attention to the costs and challenges of discipleship.

  2. My daughter called with a protest saying the iPhone is not easy to use, which may be an indication that standards get redefined every generation.

    But, setting that aside for the moment, your insight about the difficulty of being a Christian is a good one. I suppose what I wonder in this analogy is what is the church’s role in my being a Christian. In Steve Jobs’ language, “being a Christian” is the actual problem we are trying to work on, but before someone can work on that, we require them to master “doing church” first. (That, at least, is how I interpret his discussion about forcing people to learn how to operate a computer before they can solve the problems they really want to solve.)

    Is there a way that we can make “doing church” less labor so people can get on with the problems and challenges of “being a Christian”?

    Of course, unspoken in the Jobs video is the fact that Apple had to spend loads of money and use the talents of lots of people to create a computer that gets out of the way and lets people work on problems they are trying to solve. It is amazingly hard work to create an iPhone or Mac computer. Maybe we need more R&D.

  3. Interesting thought experiment, John. One of the things this made me consider is how the iPhone (and technology in general) has made us that much more dependent upon those things. We no longer know how to truly relate to another human being. A room full of people with an iPhone would sooner text each other than talk to one another.

    Churches ought to examine themselves to see whether they are making people more dependent on their structure (as we are no doubt dependent on our phones), thus making churches (like phones) an idol and obscuring true relationship and communication with her (the Church’s) Lord.

    1. Nice expansion of the analogy. Of course, the kids tell me they are having real relationships with their devices, so the question because “how do we know?” (for iPhones or church)

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